Nothing says “end of summer” like a good, old-fashioned cookout. While you, like the rest of world, may enjoy the ambiance of burgers cooking on the grill and ‘mellows roasting over an open flame, there is no denying that the foods and sweets associated with a summer bar-b-que can weigh heavily on your heart and your waistline. While you may struggle to reconcile the terms “healthy” and “cookout” — and to get partygoers excited about a wholesome menu — rest assured in the knowledge that it is possible to have a fun, savory and nourishing get-together by following a few simple tips.
Keep It Lean
Chances are that few people on your invite list follow the same diet as you, so it’s the courteous thing to do to present options from the various meat families. However, just because you so kindly serve beef or pork along with your chicken and turkey doesn’t mean that your guests can’t dine healthy, too.
Choose lean cuts of meat with ratings of 90% or more. If you plan to grill chicken drumsticks or turkey legs, opt for skinless. If you’re confident in your prep and cooking skills, try turkey burgers with flavorful ingredients mixed in. Think shallots, cilantro and chili sauce, or oregano, pepper and feta cheese. While bean-based, tofu or tempeh burgers are probably your healthiest option, you should serve these vegan alternatives along with the real deals.
Keep the Salads Simple
Yes, it’s true, everyone loves a creamy potato salad and a savory macaroni salad, but neither of these dishes are very healthy. Switch up the salad game a bit by serving leafy greens topped with fresh, homegrown ingredients. You cannot go wrong with a bed of butter lettuce topped with thinly sliced tomatoes, feta cheese and a sprinkling of olive oil. Nor can guests argue with a spinach, strawberry and balsamic vinaigrette salad. Avocado is always a hit, so find ways to incorporate it into the side and main dishes.
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Serve Roast Veggies
Veggies such as corn on the cob, red peppers, summer squash and cherry tomatoes become delicacies when marinated and roasted in just the right ways. The simplest way to roast veggies is to coat them in olive oil, season them with herbs and roast them on a grill pan or in tin foil. However, more sophisticated (but still easy) recipes can surprise your guests in the best possible way. For instance, grilled Portobello mushrooms marinated in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, fresh herbs and garlic and served along with slices of onion, tomato and lettuce can serve as a savory substitute for grease-laden burgers.
Grill Up Dessert
Instead of roasting marshmallows over the campfire, try serving up a different type of dessert on a stick: Grilled fruit kabobs. Not only will grilling fruit create a fun and unique experience for your guests but also, it can bring out each piece’s unique flavor profile. While you can’t go wrong grilling just about any fruit, some that scream “summer” more than others include watermelon, pineapples, strawberries, kiwi and peaches. You can serve up slices on a stick or mix them together with a balsamic glaze and fresh mint or, if you’re feeling particularly playful, melted dark chocolate.
When You’re the Guest
You can’t know, for sure, what is going to be at another person’s cookout — and it would be rude of you to submit special requests for food — but that doesn’t mean you should forgo the end-of-summer fun for health reasons. If you’re worried a cookout will only have burgers, hotdogs and pasta salads to eat, eat before you go. Doing so will prevent you from caving in to your cravings when your stomach starts to grumble.
Another option is to bring a healthy dish or two to pass. Not only will this option ensure you have something healthy to snack on while you’re at the party but also, your host will appreciate the kind gesture.
A healthy cookout does not have to be a boring cookout. Use the tips above to throw an end-of-summer bash that will impress your guests and have them leaving feeling light, energized and all-around good.